You Need Help: Should I Invite My Friends’ Whole Polycule to My Wedding?

Q:

My fiancée and I are putting together the guest list for our wedding and we’ve run into a social quandary. It will be a small wedding, and we want to invite two of our mutual friends who are married to each other. We mostly knew them as a monogamous couple, but since we moved to another state, they have become part of a polycule. We love our friends, and want everyone at this intimate gathering to feel comfortable. We’ve never met the two newest people in their relationship, but they all seem to be getting more serious about each other. Should we invite just the two friends, or the whole polycule? How do we know when a +1 should actually be a +2 or +3?

A:

Hello! Fellow queer person currently planning a wedding here and experiencing intermittent guest list stress, so I am answering from that perspective! The simplified version of my answer is this: Basically, you can treat these friends the same way as you treat other friends who have maybe started new relationships where you don’t know their partners. Are you automatically inviting all of your monogamously partnered friends’ partners even if you’ve never met them before or don’t really have your own friendships with them? Then it might be the most “fair” to consider inviting these friends’ partners. If you have left off some friend’s partners who you don’t know, then it’s fine to leave these ones off, too, regardless of how serious the relationship is.

My slightly more complicated (or perhaps liberating for you — idk!) answer is that you can invite or not invite whoever you want to your wedding. A lot of “guest list” etiquette is outdated when it comes to +1s — and I don’t mean in the sense that obviously old and heteronormative rules don’t take into account polycules or poly relationship structures but just in the sense that +1s in general don’t always need to be the default. Not everyone on the guest list for my wedding gets a +1 — even for some folks who are monogamously partnered! My fiancé and I basically went with our own personal “rules” for +1s, which weren’t codified rules at all but just rather who we thought it made the most sense to invite. We have some friends who are newer to our lives, and it just didn’t make a ton of sense for us to invite their partners who we’ve never met. We have some friends who we spend a ton of time with who never really bring their partners around, so in some of those cases, we also didn’t feel bad about not extending +1s. I have cousins in Norway who are invited who are married or otherwise in longterm partnerships whose partners are not invited, which I knew would be especially chill because Norwegians think Americans are kinda extra with all the +1 stuff at weddings.

The size of your guest list is the #1 determining factor for the cost of your wedding — full stop. I don’t think anyone understands this until they’ve planned a wedding themselves (myself included!), but the smallest adjustments to size can make a huge difference. It’s not “just a few extra people” in a lot of cases; it automatically makes the price of food, drink, programs, etc go up. And if you’re planning a small wedding, then it makes it all the more true that small fluctuations would have a big impact. The thing that really stands out to me is that you’ve never met these other people in the polycule. Except in a few very rare cases, my fiancé and I aren’t inviting anyone who hasn’t been met by at least one of us.

Every time I experienced stress while working on our guest list, I had a helpful friend who reminded me that there’s no way to make everyone happy; you should focus on making yourselves happy. No one should be invited to a wedding solely because you feel socially obligated to do so. You have to come up with whatever “rules” make the most sense for you — and they can be amorphous like ours ultimately were.

Of course, no one should feel excluded just because they choose a polyamorous approach to their relationships. Ask yourself this though: If these two people who you’re both friends with had recently broken up and were now seriously dating new people, would you invite those new partners? If any of your monogamous friends broke up and started seeing new people, would you invite those new people, too? If the answer is yes without a doubt, then sure, go ahead and invite their full polycule. If the answer is no or you’re unsure, then maybe remind yourselves that what really matters is the people you’re closest to are at your special day, and sometimes that doesn’t include everyone those people are also close to.

Also, something that’s helpful to keep in mind is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with guest +1s being on, for lack of a better phrase, a “backup list.” If you have enough people decline when they RSVP to your wedding, then perhaps you can add in extra +1s — either for these friends or for other friends who are in new relationships or even for single friends who you think might benefit from a date. In general, my guest list has what I call a “no randos” policy, which basically means no blanket +1s for folks — except in a few individual cases where I know the person invited ONLY knows me and my fiancé and I wanted them to have a buddy. See, this is what I mean by amorphous rules! Be flexible and not overly constrained by etiquette, which can be super rigid!

I totally understand the impulse of wanting to make sure your approach to social expectations are inclusive and fair, but I also think it’s okay to play by your own rules when it comes to a wedding and go with your instincts. So long as the decision is being made from a place of what you actually want and not what you think others expect of you, I think whatever choice you make is ultimately yours and doesn’t have to be defended to anyone. The fact that you’re asking this question in the first place signals to me that you take your friends’ relationships seriously.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 814 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. My sister didn’t invite my girlfriend to her wedding. I think she was using Kayla’s “amorphous rules”, giving some people a plus one for different reasons. (e.g. because they had invited her to their wedding, or because otherwise they wouldn’t know anyone else.)

    I get it, but I wish she had explained her decision to me! I found myself questioning whether she really accepted my relationship (my first gay relationship!), and I was hurt.

    Obviously you have the right to invite whoever you want to your wedding, but you have to accept that people’s feelings might be hurt, and that they might draw the wrong conclusions about your reasons. So although I basically agree with Kayla, I think that you should actually talk to your friends, explain why you didn’t invite the whole polycule and tell them that you would love to meet their other partners at some point (if you do want to meet them!)

  2. A thought— if the cost isn’t an issue and you’re open to them attending, I would just ask your friends what they think about having their new partners attend your wedding. I’m in a new relationship (6 mos) that’s pretty serious and I am invited to 5 weddings this season. My friends asked me if I wanted a plus one. I asked my gf and she didn’t want to go to any weddings (she’s a decade older than me and is over the wedding thing). I felt appreciated, my friends got an easy answer, and my partner and I didn’t have to have an awkward conversation about a plus one situation with an invitation in front of us. Your friends’ new partners might not want to attend for a bunch of reasons— it might be too soon from their perspective or they might hate weddings!

  3. Weddings seem to take on the illusion it’s for the guests by the (potential) guests. When one of my sisters had a small wedding on a beach with just our family, the grooms and a handful of their friends, one old friend held a grudge for years he wasn’t invited even though my sister hadn’t spoken to him in years.
    I’m not huge fan of attending weddings so I’d gladly decline being a +1.
    LW do what will make you most happy, it’s your day. Years later when you look back on photos who do you want to see there? (Although sometimes trying to figure out who the rando was can be kinda funny😁)

  4. For my wife and I it was more about context of the guest than whether we had met the partner or how serious a relationship was. We gave plus ones to anyone we invited from out of state because we felt we wanted them to have someone with them they knew well – so a single friend brought a good friend. We had the space and ability financially to do that and our friends had such a good time getting to know each other.

    I echo asking friends about it! If you don’t have the space or money you could start by saying that but if you have some room to spare – or will potentially have space if people say no or decide not to come – your friends could be in on that conversation

  5. Surely you can invite or not invite anyone you want to. That also means that people may be hurt, and/or not feel safe. My longest and closest friend (more like a sister really) didn’t want me to have a +1 for her wedding. I had to explain myself how stressful and emotional it would be for me seeing people at her wedding who I had last met as a child-teenager in the church/sect we both grew up in, and left, and then she returned to, but not me. I was going to be the only out lesbian/queer person and atheist at her wedding – a setting of heteronormative fundamentalist Christians… My friend finally and grudgingly permitted me to have a +1 (by the way, it wouldn’t have been a question had I had a male partner)… And then she uninvited me from the wedding last-minute because I addressed her soon-to-be-husband’s abuse in the relationship they had in the past, and this is part of how things ended between us…

    So clearly I have a lot of feelings about weddings and which guests get a +1 and which do not. I’m a firm believer that +1 for weddings make the people invited more comfortable and safe in a strange environment. While I understand if this is something that not every bridal couple wants or can do, I want to stress that communication is key, especially when it comes to amorphous rules. Please also understand if people choose not to attend because they don’t feel safe, or that they might have a higher anxiety rate.

    On the other hand, there were a number of weddings that I happily attended by myself, was not offered a +1 and did not need one. There is so much that comes into play! I second people’s suggestion to speak to the guests in advance and ask/explain your rules.

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